Analysis Law and Policy

Is it 1970? CARD Act Regulation Demonstrates Credit Challenges Remain for Women

Sheila Bapat

Last week, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reversed a CARD Act regulation that prevented some stay-at-home mothers from obtaining credit cards on their own.

If Bella Abzug were still alive, she would probably give us mixed reviews on women’s economic progress. Abzug, one of the most vociferous women members of Congress during the seventies, fought hard for many of the economic rights a woman has today, including the right to obtain a credit card without her husband’s signature. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act helped ensure that any person who applies for a credit card could not be rejected on the basis of her sex, marital status, race, or religion. Now, women can thankfully access credit on their own.

But credit challenges for women still exist, as evidenced by the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (the CARD Act) of 2009. For the past year and a half there has been a quiet CARD Act regulation in place—a regulation that was happily reversed last week—that inhibited many stay-at-home mothers from qualifying for credit cards on their own. The CARD Act “requires that card issuers evaluate a consumer’s ability to make the necessary payments before opening a new credit card account.” A Federal Reserve Board (FRB) regulation for this law stated that a card issuer generally may only consider the individual card applicant’s income or assets—not her household income. As noted in the FRB’s final rule, the rule “requires that a card issuer consider a consumer’s independent ability to make the required payments on a credit card account, regardless of the consumer’s age.”

As a result of the policy, some stay-at-home parents earning no income—most of whom are women—faced challenges obtaining credit cards. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB):

Data made available suggest that some otherwise credit-worthy individuals have been declined for credit card accounts under the current regulation, even though they have the ability to make the required payments. Discussions with industry sources indicate that a significant number of these individuals may be stay-at-home spouses or partners with access to income from an employed spouse or partner.

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Luckily, the CFPB—the agency set up in 2011 by friend-of-consumers and Massachusetts Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren—changed the credit card qualification rule this week. The new rule should enable stay-at-home parents to qualify for credit cards on their own without hassle.

Why did the original (FRB) regulation come about in the first place? When it was originally proposed in November 2010, public comment and discussion about this rule included concern from individuals about the fact that the rule could restrict stay-at-home spouses or parents:

…Commenters strongly objected to the application of these limitations to consumers who are 21 or older. They argued that this aspect of the proposed rule was inconsistent with the Credit Card Act and the Board’s Regulation B and would reduce access to credit, particularly for married women who do not work outside the home.

This concern did not drive the ultimate FRB policy. Supporters of the FRB policy believed that considering only the credit card applicant’s income could help protect consumers from having to pay excessive fees required by credit card issuers, as well as prevent them from taking on more debt than they could manage on their own. One objective of the CARD Act of 2009 is to protect consumers from debt they can’t manage: in light of the mortgage crisis, it does make sense for the federal government to help people avoid crushing debt.

But the FRB’s considerations also reveal some troubling justifications that frankly reek of the mid-century sexism that Abzug battled. The FRB actually notes that people without their own income could still obtain credit through relying on their spouses:

a consumer who does not have sufficient income to open a credit card account independently can open an account by applying jointly with a spouse who has sufficient income. The Board understands that a joint application could be inconvenient or impracticable in certain circumstances, such as when a consumer’s spouse is not available to apply in a retail setting. However, the Board does not believe that these concerns warrant permitting issuers to extend credit based on the income of persons who are not liable on the account.

What about someone who may not be working but is also trying to escape an abusive marriage? Requiring a stay-at-home mother to tie her credit to her spouse could be far more dangerous than the FRB understood.

In practice, the policy was indeed found to be too restrictive, resulting in a Change.org petition as well as extensive feedback to the CFPB that tens of thousands of people were being denied credit even though they were credit-worthy and they lived in households that could absorb the debt.

This policy is not the only source of challenges women in the United States still face in obtaining credit. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the practice of changing one’s name after marriage—something many, many women still choose to do—can result in lost credit histories, or “creditors reporting accounts shared by a married couple in the husband’s name only.”

In sum, Bella: we still have a ways to go.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: Do It for Denmark, But Don’t Charge It to Your Credit Card

Martha Kempner

This week, a travel company launches a racy and playful ad asking Danes to get pregnant for their country, a credit card processing company refuses to work with an online condom retailer, and the STD app Hula comes under fire.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Do It for Denmark

“Close your eyes and think of England” was apparently given as advice to Victorian-era women about how to “get through” intercourse with their husbands, which they were obligated to do but supposedly wouldn’t want or enjoy. Today, a travel company in Denmark has an idea that is better but no less patriotic: It wants couples to “Do It for Denmark.”

Of course, there’s a little catch—they’d like you not just to do it but to get pregnant in the process. You see, Denmark, which has been rated one of the happiest countries on the planet, is facing its lowest birth rate in decades, with just ten babies born to every 1,000 women in 2013. (For comparison, the birth rate in the United Sates, which is also at its lowest ever, is 62 babies to every 1,000 women.)

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In a new ad campaign that is making a global splash, travel company Spies Rejser notes that the government does not know how to fix this problem but suggests that it does. Using statistics of unknown origin, the campaign says that Danes have 46 percent more sex while on vacation and that 10 percent of Danish children are conceived on holiday. So it is asking young Danish couples to take a vacation, have a lot of sex, and return home knocked up.

In case people need more convincing, the company has added some incentives. Couples get a discount on their trip if they take it when the woman is ovulating, which is their most fertile time of the month. Plus, couples who can prove that they conceived on a trip can enter to win three years of free baby stuff and a family-oriented vacation once the kid is born.

Don’t worry, though; the ad is not just for heterosexual couples of reproductive age. Over pictures of an older couple, a gay couple, and some intertwining body parts, the ad notes, “But what if you already did your duty. Or what if your chances of conceiving a child are not so high? Well look at it this way: It’s not just about winning. All the fun is in the participation.”

When they put it that way, maybe we should all do it for Denmark!

Hula App Under Fire

Hula is a free app available for iPhones and Androids that helps people locate sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing services and then translates the results into easily understandable language, storing them so users can share their status with potential partners. Public health experts have expressed mixed feelings about the app; while they are pleased that it encourages STD testing and helps people find services in their area, some worry about the privacy issues involved in letting an app store medical information. Others have pointed out that sharing negative test results may give partners a false sense of security. The results are time-stamped so users can’t lie about when they were last tested, but even recent results could be inaccurate if a person has had unprotected sex since he or she was tested.

The newest round of criticism against the app, however, is not about how it works or whether it is a good way for couples to communicate about STDs; it is about the application’s name. Three young people from Hawaii have started a Change.org petition, which argues that using the word Hula, and in particular the tagline “because it gets you lei’d,” is culturally insensitive. In their petition for a name change, the authors say it perpetuates negative images of Native Hawaiians: “The hula girl stereotype not only reduces Hawaiian women to purely sexual play things, but it presents the idea that the embodiment of Hawai’i and its culture is childlike and primitive.”

After providing a history of how Native Hawaiians have struggled to keep their culture alive, the petition notes, “In addition to the implied appropriation of a cultural practice that means so much to Native Hawaiians, the use of our culture in regards to STD awareness seems distasteful … [because] the arrival of Europeans exposed Native Hawaiians to foreign diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which consequently caused death and infertility.”

The CEO of the company, Ramin Bastani, has replied saying that he was glad to learn so much about the culture and promising to stop using the tagline. Bastani told the Associated Press, “We didn’t realize that it was offensive. We removed any connection to it.” He has no plans, however, to change the name of the app. Noting that they’re a small company that isn’t making any money yet, Bastani said, “We want to do the right thing. Changing the name, for us, doesn’t make sense.”

Credit Card Processing Platform Refuses to Work With Condom Company

Start-up condom company Lovability learned this week that Chase Paymentech would not handle its credit card transactions because processing sales for “adult-oriented products” on the platform is prohibited.

Retailers who want to accept payment by credit card—whether online or in brick-and-mortar stores—need to enter agreements with one or more processing platforms. For a fee, the processors make sure the buyer’s credit card is billed and the retailer is paid. Paymentech, which is run by JPMorgan Chase, is one of the largest processing platforms, having handled over 29 billion transactions in 2012 alone.

Lovability’s founder, Tiffany Gaines, who started the company as a way to discreetly sell condoms to women, said a representative told her on the phone that they would not work with her because doing so posed a “reputation risk” to the company. In an email to the company, Gaines argued, “There is nothing ‘naughty’ about my company’s mission of empowering women to take responsibility for their sexual health. Also, if condoms were taken out of the ‘adult’ category, perhaps more teenage women would feel comfortable being prepared with them. This would prevent the 300,000+ unwanted teenage pregnancies that happen in America each year.”

Gaines is, of course, right. Condoms should not be considered an “adult-oriented” product, especially if doing so makes them harder to obtain. Condoms are a hugely important tool in the public health battle against sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, and it is important that they be readily available to both adolescents and adults.

We also can’t help but think that Paymentech’s decision was a bit arbitrary. Condoms are available in drug stores and mass market retailers like Target and Walmart. In fact, actual adult-oriented items like vibrators are also found in such stores as well. Does Paymentech refuse to serve them?

Finally, we have wonder whether such a rule is good business. Grabstats tells us that $3,075.64 is spent on porn every second, and we’re sure only a fraction of that could possibly be done in cash. Just think of all the transactions fees Paymentech is missing out on.

Commentary Abortion

Is It Really Best for Women If Akin Withdraws? Questions About a Defining Moment

Jodi Jacobson

Calls are mounting for Missouri Representative Todd Akin to resign. But is it really best for women's rights if he does so?

This weekend, Missouri Representative Todd Akin justified his opposition to a rape exception for abortion by claiming that women don’t actually get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” In doing so, Akin was parroting an outlandish and wholly medically-inaccurate claim persistently made by the Christian right to undermine rape claims generally and access to safe abortion care specifically.

Now, Akin is under fire from some quarters of the GOP to drop out of the race and allow another candidate to challenge Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. (Others, such as the Family Research Council and fundamentalist Christian activist Bryan Fischer have supported Akin.) Some women’s rights advocates also are calling on him to resign.

But is forcing Akin out the best strategy? I am not so sure. I think that what Akin has done is given the women’s rights movement and all progressives a gift and we should take it with open arms.

Because the fact is that Todd Akin said what the GOP meant. He is no outlier; he actually is in the mainstream of what the current GOP stands for. But since this is an election year, the GOP wants to tamp down the war on women… at least until November 4th.

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And the fact is that this is about rape and violence against women in the specific sense, but it is also about something much more profound… the violence against women of a political movement that seeks to deprive them of their fundamental rights to decide whether, when, and with whom to have a child and under what circumstances. And that is the battle we have an opening to fight.

A quick look at history. On May 4th, 2011, an overwhelming majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives–235 members–voted in favor of H.R. 3, which they called the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” and we called the “Let Women Die Act,” because one aspect of this wholly offensive bill allowed hospitals, clinics, and even doctors to refuse not only to provide an abortion even in cases where the woman would otherwise die, but also to allow them to refuse to refer her for emergency care. In plain language, let her die.

The original version of that bill also included language that would have redefined rape, including the term “forcible rape” as the yardstick for what constituted “real rape” according to the GOP and Tea Party. An outcry ensued, and the language was dropped… for a time. It was, however, brought in later through the backdoor and became part of the final bill. In effect, the GOP’s premise is that the only “legitimate rape” is a “forcible rape,” one that occurs when a virgin, “good Christian” mother or woman, or otherwise “innocent” woman is carried away by a stranger at knife or gunpoint. This definition by extension would have eliminated date rape, marital rape, intimate partner rape, the rape of a sex worker, the rape of a woman too inebriated to give consent, and other forms of rape as “legitimate” forms of rape. It dismisses the reality that most rapes of women are committed by people they know. It is also no coincidence that the right wing wants to deny women in the military who have been sexually assaulted assistance for abortion care in the case of rape, and that some in the right wing have outright blamed service-women for being raped in the first place.

H.R. 3 epitomized the effort to redefine rape in law. As Michelle Goldberg wrote in the Daily Beast:

Under H.R. 3, the only victims of “forcible rape” would qualify for federally funded abortions. Victims of statutory rape—say, a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 30-year-old man—would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And while “forcible rape” isn’t defined in the criminal code, the addition of the adjective seems certain to exclude acts of rape that don’t involve overt violence—say, cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity.

Akin’s ineptitude in describing his position was a “political” mistake but not a mistake of substance. He was merely stating what the GOP writ large believes and has in effect been trying to pass into law… a redefinition of what constitutes rape to what the hard-line Christian right and extremist right-wing legislators see as “legitimate” rape. With Romney and Ryan in the White House and a Senate and House in the hands of the GOP, this law would easily pass, whether or not Akin is elected.

So I think a part of any strategy to make clear what is happening in this country must include the issue of redefining rape, but must–absolutely must–go further or we will lose an opening to take back the conversation on the most fundamental rights of women to control their own bodies.

Take a moment and add up all the ways in which the GOP and Tea Party–with the help of numerous Blue Dog Dems–have been foreclosing on women’s reproductive options at the state and national level for years. They’ve been attacking contraception, misrepresenting emergency contraception, outlawing or making inaccessible early medication abortion, closing clinics that provide safe abortion care, passing 20-week abortion bans based on medical lies.

Taken together, this list equals one thing and one thing only: A fundamentalist agenda to force women to carry any and every pregnancy to term. A Forced Pregnancy Agenda. A death by 1000 cuts of women’s rights to make the most profound life choices. The angry response to the question of “legitimate,” “forcible,” or “redefined” rape is only a part of this, a necessary but not sufficient response to Akin.

Talking about “exceptions” also is a part of the far right strategy; first to admit that in their eyes there are “some valid exceptions” for abortion, and then to shift to the claim, as they have been doing in recent years, that no exception is valid. Likewise, first anti-choicers were against so-called “late” abortions, but now are attacking even emergency contraception, which prevents pregnancy, and all other forms of contraception, never mind just abortion. It will never stop. And the more we engage in debates on their terms–exceptions, what is rape, etc–the more we will lose, because each time we are playing on their home field.

We have to have the courage to be clear on our position: In the end, the only person whose decision it is on whether to bring a child into the world is the woman who carries it. And we have to employ that courage right now.

Only by making the Forced Pregnancy Agenda clear can we being to turn this conversation around.

And this is where the opening is. If Akin drops out, he will be replaced by someone equally as anti-choice but with a smoother tongue, a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. The controversy will wane. With Akin running, that question stays alive, and can be used to pin down every other right-wing GOP, Tea Party, and anti-choice Democrat running for state and national office throughout the rest of the election.

Take Mitt Romney, who issued a softball rebuke to Akin. Why? Because Romney knows that this is the agenda of the GOP, and he knows women will react forcefully to his real agenda on women’s rights, which he has tried to obscure during the primary process and into the convention by taking so many different positions on contraception, abortion, and other issues of concern to women they are difficult to track.

But Romney has to be asked how he can condemn, however softly, Akin’s comments when Congressman Paul Ryan holds the same views? Ryan was a co-sponsor of H.R. 3. He also co-sponsored the “Sanctity of Life” Act, a federal personhood law which, by declaring a fertilized egg a person would outlaw all abortions, many forms of contraception, in-vitro fertilization and many other interventions. This is the same formula that was used by officials in the Dominican Republic to deny cancer treatment to a pregnant 16 year old, who died last week as a result.

What about the other 235 Republicans and 17 House Democrats that voted for HR 3 and these other bills? Are we asking them whether they support redefining rape, allowing women to die, outlawing contraception and in-vitro fertilization? Do they support forced pregnancy?

And excuse me, but enough with the “pro-life” bullshit. There is no “pro-life” discussion here. You are not “pro-life” if you want to deny human rights to women. Period. I’ll say it again: In the end, the only person whose decision it is on whether to carry a pregnancy to term, to bring a child into the world, is the woman who carries it and those people she wants to involve.

Every single one of those running for office today should be pinned down on whether and why they support a Forced Pregnancy Agenda through tactics such as changing the definition of rape and denying women access to contraception and abortion. Do they believe women should be forced to carry pregnancies to term?

The outrage generated by the term “legitimate rape” is justified but should be equally focused on illuminating what is clearly a longer-term right-wing agenda in which Todd Akin is a somewhat hapless fool.

And we would be foolish not to force their hand.